If a prosecutor or defense lawyer has asked you to be a witness, it might seem a little weird to think you may need to hire a criminal law attorney. However, America's system of criminal law can create scenarios where witnesses might be exposed to possible charges. Take a look look at why and when you may want to lawyer up as a witness.
You Might Not Really Be a Witness
Investigators often are pretty cagey about whether someone is the subject of an inquiry. They may characterize their interest in speaking with you as though they see you as a witness. However, they might see you as a suspect and just not want to expose that fact. Modern criminal law even allows officers to lie to test the validity of someone's story.
Whenever an officer, prosecutor, or even defense lawyer for someone else wants to speak with you, it's wise to have counsel present. Don't let them act like the conversation will be quick and simple. Exposure under criminal law can appear in seconds if you say the wrong thing. Tell them you want an attorney present and wait until your lawyer arrives to talk.
A Defendant Might Point the Finger at You
People can do crazy things when they're facing potential jail time. Even if two people have been close friends for decades, if one of them is a criminal defendant, they may try to blame the other person. It doesn't always have to add up or be true. Innocent people can still go to jail, so stay safe and retain counsel.
You May Be Accused of Process Crimes
A prosecutor may think a witness knows more than they let on. Once more, this doesn't have to be true or make sense. However, a common prosecutorial technique is to threaten witnesses with charges based on a process crime. The goal is to pressure them into cooperating.
A process crime is an offense against the system of justice. The offense doesn't have to have any bearing on the original crimes of the defendant. It doesn't even have to involve the defendant.
Instead, the prosecution may tell the court you withheld, destroyed, or moved evidence. They might also insist that you didn't tell the truth under oath. If an interview involves the FBI, you don't even have to be under oath for a court to charge you with lying. Consequently, the smart move is to lawyer up.